Stephen King has come to be known as a sort of "king of horror." In fact, his name and his work is at times used as a synonym for horror or a way to express the intensity of stories. So it really comes as no surprise to me that his name was on the list of authors who have written a banned book. When I started in on my "banned books" project, I found myself wanting to read more and more of the banned books. I wanted to evaluate why they were banned, where they were banned, how I feel about their banning, etc. So the first book that was new to me on that list was Carrie by Stephen King.
In the past, I have read a couple other Stephen King books. I loved all of them and was excited to read a new one. And for full disclosure, I have watched both the 1976 and the 2013 film versions of this story. So going into it, I knew how it would end. However, it had been a long time since I had watched it, so I'd forgotten most of the story.
This was a book I chose to listen to as an audiobook. I do have to say that I'm very glad that I listened to it because there was an introduction that was added and narrated by Stephen King himself. That introduction added, what I feel are important details to this story. There were two girls that he grew up with whose life stories never left his mind. He remembers one being teased relentlessly for having only one outfit; a thing that is out of a child's control. He noted a memory of going to one of the girls's houses and meeting her eccentric families. The extreme nature of her home life was a detail that stuck in King's memory. One of the girls eventually came to take her life as an adult.
To start, I'll give a bit of a summary of the book:
Not being able to shake the memories of the girls, King finally decided to sit down and write about a teenage girl who was inspired by the girls he grew up with. That character was named Carrie White. King wastes no time in the beginning of the book setting the tone. Carrie White gets her first menstrual period and, thanks to her mother's unique form of parenting, she has no idea what's happening to her. So Carrie believes that she is seriously hurt and possibly even dying. Rather than explain and comfort her, Carrie's classmates bully her.
**I'm going to pause here quickly to share a personal anecdote. As a young girl, I got my first menstrual period at a young age. This means that in school, we hadn't gotten "the talk" yet, and my parents hadn't gotten a chance to talk to me about it yet. So I didn't know what was happening to me. My lack of knowledge wasn't due to any odd parenting, but simply because I had been fairly young. I also thought that I was hurt or dying. I remember being terrified and thinking that I would need to go to the hospital. Thankfully, I was at home at the time rather than at school surrounded by my peers. But regardless, the fear that Carrie had was something very relatable for me. Despite this being written by a man who has never personally experienced this, it was written in a way that I could personally relate to. And I feel that's an important detail that I will circle back to.**
The book goes on to explain through gradual reveals that Carrie is the target of an extreme amount of bullying from her peers. But the bullying is much bigger than that. It goes back to her mother being an extreme religious fanatic that finds shame in natural and normal things. There is tension between her and neighbors and a general belief among everyone in town that Carrie White and her mother are just crazy. Since Carrie's mother finds a great deal of normal and natural things shameful, Carrie has been raised to believe that her very existence is due to a sin.
Between her mother's shame and the bullying from peers, Carrie is desperate to break away from some of the way things have been going. She wants to rebel a bit from her mother and be freed from some of the bullying. However, the bullying doesn't just stop. If anything, this encourages some of her peers to cook up one big prank to pull on Carrie. What they don't realize at the time is how detrimental this prank will prove to be.
When I finished the book, I did a brief look into the details about this book's banning. I found that this book has been banned from different libraries in Nevada, Vermont, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. Each location had their own reasons for banning the book, but overall it boiled down to four main points: violence, cursing, the depiction of underage sex, and a negative view of religion. In addition, this book was found to be one of the top 100 books to be banned in the 1990s. Not all of Stephen King's books are banned, but Carrie has been one of the most commonly banned books.
As I was listening to the book, on more than one occasion I thought to myself that this book has such an important message to share. If it were up to me, rather than ban this book and keep it away from people, I would encourage others to read it. Especially at a high school age when this kind of bullying is sadly becoming a more regular thing.
The book is criticized for things like violence, cursing, and underage sex that are very common things that happen with teenagers. In many ways, by censoring these things from teenagers, it's not that different from Carrie White's mother not telling her about things like menstruation. I feel it's unrealistic to try to hide some of these realities from teenagers. It could lead to similar bullying that is depicted in this book.
Another main reason for the banning of this book has to do with the way that the White family practices religion. However, I believe that Stephen King writes their religious fanaticism in a way that makes it clear that this is extreme practice of their religion. My take away was not that King was showing issue with the fact that the Whites were a religious family. He shed light on issue with the extreme nature of their religious practices, but not the actual beliefs themselves.
Regardless of all of the criticism, I truly feel that young people would benefit from reading this book. It shines a light on how painful it can be to be on the receiving end of what may be considered light teasing. It forced the reader to see that there could be serious repercussions if bullying isn't addressed. Yes, this book shows it on an extreme scale. However, sometimes a dramatized scenario is exactly what a reader needs to have the message hit home. It could be just what a person needs to hear to reflect back on themselves and evaluate their own actions. Are they acting in ways similar to the bullies? Do they look out for the Carrie Whites of the world?
In the introduction, Stephen King explains that he found himself feeling that what he had written was terrible and threw the draft in the garbage. His wife went and pulled it out of the trash and read it over. She brought it to him and told him he needed to finish writing what he started. Stephen King couldn't imagine who would read a book about a girl being bullied for getting her first menstrual period. But as I explained before, that was something I could absolutely relate to. From my personal experience, I could put myself into her shoes. I could see how easily that could have been me.
Regardless of whether or not you could relate to this point or that, there are plenty of details that are relatable. Whether you're the Carrie White, her classmates, the teachers, the principal, the neighbors, her mother, etc., everyone could relate to some part of the story. Everyone could learn something from this book. And it is sad to me to know that this book is being kept from various people.
I wholly disagree with the choice to have this book banned and encourage others to pick it up sometime and give it a read yourself. If you do, tell me what you think. If you've read it before, what were your thoughts on the book? Do you agree or disagree with the choice to have it banned from different libraries? I would love to know what others think on the subject.